The American Religious Civil War
Presented by Edwin Kagin, JD, Founder and director of Camp Quest, http://www.Camp-Quest.com
Presented on Wednesday, October 12, 2005 in Grand Rapids, MI.
About the Speaker
Mr. Edwin Frederick Kagin, J.D., is a founding member, former Vice President and erstwhile board member of FIG (the Free Inquiry Group, Inc.) of Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky and is a published writer of poetry and prose that appears regularly in FIG Leaves, the newsletter of the Free Inquiry Group, and elsewhere, as Kagin’s Column. He is co-author of the book Fundamentals of Extremism; The Christian Right in America (Kimberly Blaker, ed.; New Boston Books, 2003). His book, Baubles of Blasphemy is a collection of some of his writings. Mr. Kagin was born in Greenville, South Carolina, on November 26, 1940. He is an attorney in Union, Kentucky. Kagin is the originator, founder and director of Camp Quest, the nation’s first residential secular summer camp for children of atheists and other freethinkers (http://www.Camp-Quest.com), with the motto: It’s Beyond Belief!
About the Event
Meeting Minutes for October 12, 2005; #195
Presented by Edwin Kagin, Constitutional Attorney, author of Baubles and Blasphemy, and Founder of CampQuest — a secular summer camp.
This was our first meeting at the Women’s City Club, located at the corner of Lafayette Ave. and Fulton Street near downtown Grand Rapids. The facility is a grand one and was built during the Civil War period. We were invited to tour the building with its many spacious rooms and accommodations, ornate flourishes and fine furnishings. There were a couple of technical glitches in our initial set up but these bugs got worked out without much trouble.
We have an attractive new brochure that was displayed for the first time at this meeting. The layout, color use and font selections are engaging. Contained within, there are quotes by Richard Dawkins and Thomas Edison; a succinct historical overview of our group; a statement of values; a definition of the word Freethinker; information regarding our meetings- from general information about structure to specifics as to time and place, etc.; opportunities; membership information; our website address and some of what one will find there, and other items of interest to the freethinking community that we offer. There is also a sign up slip that can be tucked inside the brochure for one’s inclusion in the Member Directory; to receive quarterly mailings; to subscribe to our Freethought eNews e-mails; and for making donations to our organization of eight years duration so far.
The latest Freethinker newsletter had been sent out with news of changes, upcoming events and other items. Those on the mailing list should have received this by this time. Kudos for the fine work that Jennifer Beahan does in putting these together.
There was a vote taken as to preference for our post-meeting social gathering place. The vote was between One Trick Pony, located within a fairly short walk from our new meeting place, and Vitales Restaurant, which had been our regular venue for eats, drinks and good conversation when our meetings were held at the Yankee Clipper Library. The latter requires a short drive. We opted for Vitales and will likely keep up the tradition of going there after meetings. Who says freethinkers don’t have traditions?
It was announced that the Women’s City Club will be serving buffet dinners between 5PM and 8PM for 17.00; half price for children.
Dr. Greg Forbes, FA member and professor of evolutionary biology at GRCC, informed us about the current situation regarding the Dover, PA school board’s plan to teach Intelligent Design Theory. Additionally, there is proposed the requirement to have the school libraries and classrooms equipped with the anti-scientific, Creationist book called Of Pandas and People. This is the first case of a requirement for this text being issued. This is a big event, as the outcome will decide policies regarding how biology may be taught in the public schools, and is being billed by some as Scopes Trial II (after the 1925 so-called Scopes Monkey Trial in Dayton, Tennessee, regarding the teaching of evolution in a biology class in violation of the law by teacher John Scopes). If the Dover school board loses, Dr. Forbes explained, they will have a million dollars in legal fees, etc. to pay for, so there is a lot, financially as well as ideologically, riding on this outcome.
Here in Michigan, HB (House Bill) 5251 is being pushed, regarding the curriculum code for establishing the scientific methodology in dealing with global warming and evolution. What makes this especially significant, Dr. Forbes explained for us, is that this is a case of the legislature usurping school board control in making decisions on educational matters. The political agenda for this is to create the appearance of controversy over these matters, to get the public to doubt the scientific validity of these issues. For more information on these and other issues affecting science education in the public schools, we were encouraged to check out the Michigan Citizens for Science website: http://www.michigancitizensforscience.org.
The next SEE-TV Book Discussion group meeting will be on October 14, at 7PM, at John and Kathy’s fragrance-free house; 826 Fairmount St., SE. The book to be discussed will be The Liberal Virus; Permanent War & the Americanization of the World, by Samir Amin. Call 616-459-2373 for more information.
It was announced that there will be a Fall Kegger which is also a going away party for FA member, Jamie, who is leaving for Chicago. This will be held at 734 Lockwood St., NE, in Grand Rapids, on Saturday, October 15, starting at 8PM.
October 15 is also the date for the next Freethought Women’s Group meeting, also in the Freethought Commune area of Lockwood, NE (at 736). It will be from 10AM until 11:30AM. For more information, send an e-mail to coordinator, Jennifer Beahan at or call 616-706-2029.
The following day (Sunday), October 16 at 9AM there will be a Freethought Association Board meeting at the Urban Mill, by Fulton and Monroe. Interested members are welcome. Some of the items to be covered include filling a Director position within the next couple of years, Solstice Party details, the Sam Harris event, the inception of a Meditation Group, American Atheist affiliation, and several other agenda items.
The next Freethought Movie Night is October 19 at 7PM, at Jason Pittman’s house at 740 Lockwood, NE. The featured film will be Shaun of the Dead. BYOB and snack to pass and please RSVP (or for further information) by e-mail to or by telephone: 616-634-2471.
October 20 and 21st are the dates for the Perspectives on Creation and Evolution Debate, from 7-9PM. On the 20th, it will be held at the Eberhard Center, Grand Valley State University; 301 Fulton Street. On the 21st it will be from 10AM-12PM at the Pere Marquette Room, Kirkhof Center, GVSU. This special two day event is sponsored by Grand Dialogue and is presented by Michael Ruse. Dr. Ruse is a philosopher of biology, specializing in Darwinism. He is the Lucycle T. Werkmeister Professor of Philosophy at Florida State University and is the author of multiple books, including most recently, Darwin and Design; Does Evolution Have a Purpose?
The next regular FA (Freethought Association) meeting will be on October 26 (meetings are still always on the second and fourth Wednesday of each month, starting at 7PM, unless otherwise specifically noted) and will be on the topic: Truth-Driven Thinking. Stephen Gibson, author of the book by the same title, will be our presenter for this topic.
Don’t miss our annual Halloween Party on October 29, starting at 5PM at the Seaver Farm; 10721 52nd Ave., Allendale, MI. Costumes encouraged but not required. BYOB and dish to pass. Hayride and bonfire and fun times. For more information or directions, send an e-mail to or call 616-892-9300.
November 2 is the next date for the Freethought Movie Night. See above information.
FA member Jeremy Beahan is organizing a Meditation Group. The first meeting will be on November 6 at 6PM, at Mosaic; 1317 E. Fulton St. This will be conducted as a secular and scientific approach to meditation. Loose comfortable clothing is recommended, and bring a meditation cushion if you have one, though a few extra ones will be available. For directions or questions, e-mail Jeremy Beahan at .
Jeremy will also represent the Freethought perspective at the annual Community Interfaith Thanksgiving Service at Westminster Presbyterian Church; 47 Jefferson St., SE, G.R. This will be on November 21 at 7PM. We participate in this event annually.
NOTE: There will be NO meetings on November 23 or December 28.
Please keep in mind our Winter Solstice Dinner and Awards Presentation. This will be on December 14, starting at 7PM at the WCC (Women’s City Club); 254 E. Fulton St. There will be musical entertainment. The Freethinker Award will be given this evening as well. RSVP with a check for $25/person to: Freethought Association, PO Box 101, Allendale, MI, 49401.
January 21 (‘06) will be the first date for the new Dinner for 8 gatherings. These are Saturday evenings for adults to get together for drinks, dinner and good conversation. It is a nice way to get to know other freethinkers in a relaxed and fun social setting. If you are interested in participating or want more information, contact Jan Van Oosterhout at .
Stacie Van Oosterhout has a questionnaire available for members to fill out to gauge the interest in starting a Freethought Youth Group. These questionnaires are available at the meetings and an online version is also available. It may be possible to hold such meetings in one of the rooms adjacent to our regular meeting auditorium on those meeting Wednesdays at the WCC.
The topic for this meeting was The American Religious Civil War, presented by Edwin Kagin. There were roughly 95 attendees at this, our first meeting at the WCC, to hear the inimitable Constitutional attorney and author of the witty, deliciously sardonic and irreverent book: Baubles of Blasphemy.
Mr. Edwin Frederick Kagin, J.D., is a founding member, former Vice President and erstwhile board member of FIG (the Free Inquiry Group, Inc.) of Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky and is a published writer of poetry and prose that appears regularly in FIG Leaves, the newsletter of the Free Inquiry Group, and elsewhere, as Kagin’s Column. He is co-author of the book Fundamentals of Extremism; The Christian Right in America (Kimberly Blaker, ed.; New Boston Books, 2003). Ms Blaker once gave a fine presentation to the FA, drawing from the contents of this book. Some of Kagin’s works can be found on his website http://www.edwinkagin.com. His book, Baubles of Blasphemy is a collection of some of his writings. It is edited by Edward Buckner and published by Freethought Press, ‘05. His talk to us was based on the contents of this funny, ironic and fearless book.
Mr. Kagin was born in Greenville, South Carolina, on November 26, 1940. He is an attorney (but he implored us not to hold this against him!) in Union, Kentucky. Kagin is the originator, founder and director of Camp Quest, the nation’s first residential secular summer camp for children of atheists and other freethinkers (http://www.Camp-Quest.com), with the motto: It’s Beyond Belief! This unique camp, with a strong grounding in science and critical thinking and rational explorations of the world, as well as all the other activities one associates with a summer youth camp, was begun in 1996 by FIG. He was an incorporator and founding board member of Camp Quest, Inc., a national non-profit corporation established in 2002 to operate Camp Quest. In 2005, following ten successful years, he and his wife, Helen, retired from this venture, after transferring control and management of CQ to other hands. He was a founder and former board member of Recover Resources Center, which provides an alternative to the religiously-oriented Alcoholics Anonymous for addiction recovery. He is a member of the Secular Student Alliance national Advisory Board and is on its speakers’ bureau.
Mr. Kagin is the son of a Presbyterian minister born in Kentucky and a Daughters of the American Revolution mother born in South Carolina. His ancestry is Scottish Presbyterian on his mother’s side, and Calvinistic German on his father’s side. He has run unsuccessfully as “the candidate without a prayer” for the Kentucky Supreme Court and for the Kentucky State Senate. Kagin is an outspoken public critic of attempted religious intrusions into secular life by government, and is a frequent speaker and debater on national radio, and at regional and national freethought meetings. He is Kentucky State Director for American Atheists and on its speakers’ bureau. Edwin and Helen Kagin were awarded the Atheists of the Year award for 2005 by the American Atheists organization. He is also listed in Who’s Who in Hell (Warren Allen Smith, ed.; Barricade Books, New York, 2000), proving that if there turns out to be a Hell, the company will be far more enjoyable than that of the other locale.
Mr. Kagin attended The College of Wooster in Wooster, Ohio; Park College in Parkville, Missouri; the University of Missouri at Kansas City, Missouri; and the School of Law of the University of Louisville in Louisville, Kentucky. He is married to Helen McGregor Kagin, a Canadian of Scottish descent. Kagin is an Eagle Scout, a former college English Instructor, a U.S. Air Force veteran, a National Rifle Association Certified Handgun Instructor, and an Honorary Black Belt in Kenpo Karate. Additionally, he was editor of the American Association of Mental Deficiency and National Institute for Mental Health project that created the Adaptive Behavior Scale, which is an instrument for the assessment of mental retardation.
His book, Baubles of Blasphemy, was on sale at this meeting. A small portion of the proceeds from sales of his book will go to benefit Camp Quest, Inc. There is never any significant stretch of oration or writing, with Kagin, that is not interjected with humor. In the portion at the back of the book that tells about the author, the blurb ends with: Any previous lives will not be herein addressed. The back cover shows Kagin, sporting a stern and far-seeing visage, but one can discern, perched atop an unruly shock of hair, two horns jutting out. His presentation to us was lively, engaging and sprinkled liberally with jocularity. As he himself wrote about his book: This volume contains various works of poetry and prose whose variety of content and message is sufficiently diverse to offend or shock almost everyone at one time or another. There is history and fantasy, reporting and opinion, analysis and mocking. Some offerings are satire. Some are not. Some are even quite serious. Some are personal statements. Readers can decide which is what for themselves. End quote.
What lies between the covers of his book contains wry observations, mirth-evoking prose and poetry and an overriding sense of fun throughout, even as he steps on the toes or touches the nerves of that faction of outspoken and influential religious fanatics who wish to impose upon the rest of society their own brand of delusion and nonsense, rewrite the Constitution as a godly document, hurl us back to Bronze Age myths in lieu of modern science, and foist large tonnages of graven images into the public square, the courthouse and the public school.
American Atheist president, Ellen Johnson (who also spoke to our organization once, regarding rights as full fledged citizens of this country for the non-religious) described Edwin Kagin as a freethinking satirical critic, humorist and, yes, a curmudgeon of sorts. Kagin began his presentation to us as he begins his book; with his definition of the word used in the book’s title: Blasphemy. Blasphemy, as Kagin tells it, is the crime of making fun of ridiculous beliefs someone else holds sacred. In the book’s opening remarks and acknowledgments, he writes: No matter what some fool says, it is not today a crime of blasphemy for you to say (in most places at least), without fear of the gulag or the stake, truths that some in our barbaric past have not liked, and which some may not now like, such as that the earth is round, that the earth goes around the sun, and that humans evolved from other forms of life.
He goes on to write: The future of your right to speak your own baubles of blasphemy is by no means certain. Whether or not you, or your children, can do so tomorrow is up to you. End quote. Kagin penned this at the top of this year. He also, in his book, explains that there is no concrete, fixed idea of blasphemy. As he writes: If you are a Christian, it is blasphemy to say that god didn’t have a son, i.e. Jesus. People have gotten killed horribly for saying that god was childless instead of acknowledging that god made a baby on the unwed body of an underage girl. Fine so far. But if you are a follower of Islam, it is blasphemy to say that god had a son or any child of any kind at all. So, you pay your money and you take your choice. No matter what side you come down on, someone will want to kill you for blasphemy. End quote. Islam also cannot fathom a three part god, with 33% being mortal and subject to pain, suffering and even death- while calling out to another 33% for the agony of torture to pass, while the last third is doing whatever it is that ghosts find to occupy their time.
Mr. Kagin, who told the assembled campers and staff for the debut of Camp Quest in August of ‘97 that they could call him Edwin, or Boss, or Sir, or Your Grace, or Mr. Director… but Edwin would do just fine, referred to the American Religious Civil War (ARCW) that he sees coming. This was the title of his talk to us this evening and a great deal of his book is devoted to this large topic that covers everything from what he refers to as Genital Based Morality (GBM), to efforts to get the Decalogue posted in public settings, to dismantling our separation of Church & State, and much else.
He also spoke of secular humanists as the last minority that it was perfectly fine to persecute. George H.W. Bush could declare, without fear of repercussion, that one could not simultaneously be a patriotic American and an atheist, and hear that there are no atheists in foxholes (which inspired a counter-point piece in Kagin’s book) from other prominent, widely-listened to sources. While there is no religious test for eligibility for holding public office and one who upholds the supreme law of the land is upholding the Constitution, a godless document; non-believers have, nonetheless, been so successfully defined by others as immoral, dishonest and dishonorable, that polling has shown that Americans could countenance the election of a Jew, a female, an African American, or a homosexual to the office of the President well before they could entertain the notion of a non-believer to this same office. Edwin urged us throughout his presentation to work together as members of the secular humanist community, rather than getting caught up in the petty differences that divide our various godless groups. We spend a lot of time defining ourselves as to our distinctions—quibbling over minor things. This is counterproductive and a divisive distraction that we can ill afford to engage in when we are in the minority already and our very rights as citizens are at stake. Meanwhile, as we get caught up in minute distinctions, those who oppose any of our diverse groups’ mere existence (simply because none follow the doctrines and dogma of their own sect or belief system) go about merrily doing the business of defining us- for us. They have no problem lumping us under one umbrella; unfortunately it is a negative one.
Even the term atheist, which Americans are taught to reflexively and viscerally associate with something exceedingly vile, merely means without god(s). It does not mean anti-god, any more than one who does not espouse belief in leprechauns, is anti-leprechauns. The god concept for the atheist is simply unnecessary and has no part in living a full and satisfying life for him or her. The other tack taken by those our opponents in the ARCW is to label secular humanism a religion. One of the reasons for this disingenuous ploy is so that they may concede that yes, creationism brings religious concepts into the science class, but secular humanism, they argue, is the religion of atheists, and therefore, since godless evolution is taught, they should be, in all fairness, able to teach their theistic take on life’s development on Earth.
We should promote better, Kagin told us, what joins us and the positive aspects of humanism. We live for progress in the here and now, rather than looking at life as some dress rehearsal for an eternal hereafter; we realize that the laws alleged to come from God, actually emanated from humans who learn, grow and change. Bronze Age nomadic tribal beliefs are not necessarily the best ones for our modern societies and their concerns. We know a human being can do more for him/herself and others on his/her feet than on bent knee, and that hands open in help are better than ones clasped in prayer to imaginary beings. We know that there is no one, single source book for wisdom and guidance; inspiration and edification. We look to human effort and intelligence and will for our betterment, rather than relinquishing these attributes for the hope that a god will take care of everything. We applaud the questing mind, the potent imagination and incredible human potential that is all around us in this world, instead of passive acceptance of some mysterious will of a deity, tepid fairy tale myths, and blind obedience to one set of ideas, while eschewing all other potential concepts.
There is nothing more divisive than religion, even though the term comes from a base that means to bind. Sects split off all the time, with bickering over doctrinal minutia creating unbridgeable walls and even in-fighting within congregations of the same church over attempts to make even the smallest changes, or toward tiny concessions to a more enlightened age. There is much that religious institutions do that is successful and may legitimately be adopted and adapted to our concerns as secular humanists, but mimicking their propensity for silly skirmishes is not a recipe for attaining any gains and goals we would hope for. As an amusing aside on this matter, Kagin mentioned two churches on opposite corners in a small town with marquees out front. One said: There is no Hell. The other retorted: The Hell There Ain’t! As enlightened rationalists, we have intellectually moved beyond examining the number of angels that dance on the head of a pin or whether baptism should be the full immersion variety or, instead, water splashed atop the pate (as divides the Anabaptists from their brethren, the Baptists). Let us, Kagin exhorted us, stand unified, with free minds and our desire for equal status and rights in our country, supposedly governed by a secular and godless Constitution.
When Edwin Kagin first began writing and talking about the coming ARCW, he was thought to be an alarmist with extreme views. Now much of what he presciently called attention to then has been borne out in fact and his views no longer seem wild eyed. His rhetoric, however, has never been muted or timid, referring to Mary Magdalene as a crazy hooker, and the sacrament of the Eucharist: Swallow the Leader. While this manner of speaking is considered scandalous by many non-believers even, he reminded us that it is seen as perfectly fine for the funangelicals (a neologism he coined) to slander us daily and in the most vile terms, without meeting a whisper of outrage in so doing.
Kagin sprinkled his talk liberally with droll quips. One of them, again regarding the problems with disunity, was about Trappist Monks engaging in their ritual vow of silence. Every ten years one Brother could verbally utter a thought. One used his time to declare that the porridge was lumpy. Ten years passed and then another Brother had his turn to speak. His contrarian remark was that the porridge was cold. Another decade went by and a third Brother jumped up in agitation to say he was leaving the monastery due to all the complaining over porridge!
But despite all the fracturing of religious groups, we now live in the time of gigantic mega-churches (see earlier minutes on The Jesus Smorgasbord for more on this phenomenon), serving as many as 10,000 congregants, as Edwin noted. Contrast this with the total national membership number in the American Atheists organization—miniscule by comparison, and one sees the dramatic disparity. The success of these mega-churches is sometimes attributed to factors related to the entertainment provided, the relaxed atmosphere, the social aspects and how they offer a safe environment for youth. The youth programs have little to nothing to do with religious teachings but instead give the young people walls to scrawl graffiti on, video games to play, and music systems pumping out hip tunes. But parents of these churches know where their children are and share the same building, if not experience. The adults, too, are offered little of substance and nothing regarding an exploration of Christianity, its tenets, doctrines, etc. The messages are bland, simple, non-provocative and more bullet point/ motivational speaker oriented, than pulpit sermonizing.
While Kagin did not get too deeply into the nuts and bolts of the mega church experience, he did make mention of the necessity of eliminating dissent for success. The small churches do this by serving a relatively tiny congregation of people who are all on the same page, and who question none of what transpires during a service. The mega churches take the tack of avoiding any concepts that are controversial or that deal with the specifics of their general faith. Their gathering is a social one aimed at creating a feel-good atmosphere. As Kagin noted, when there is intellectual examination of the church dogma and teachings, there arises the possibility of disagreement. When it comes to religion, if some are wrong, that opens the door to the horrifying possibility that all might be wrong. Begin questioning one tenet or doctrinal decree or Bible passage, and the whole thing potentially begins to unravel.
He spoke at one point of the appalling ignorance of the majority of Bible-believers regarding their Bible’s contents, and for church-goers regarding their specific church doctrines. Most of those who want to put the Ten Commandments up in the courthouses and schools, for instance, cannot recite them completely, do not know there are various versions, and even a disparity between the Catholic and Protestant renderings (that whole forbidding of graven images bug-a-boo for Catholics necessitated some fancy reconfiguring). Ask about the Second Commandment, Kagin said, and the respondent will start babbling away about gun rights!
Turning to his book, Baubles of Blasphemy, he spoke of Judge Roy Moore’s efforts to insinuate a huge carved Decalogue in a courthouse rotunda (as well as having a wooden carved version on the courtroom wall). In his book, he has a poem that can be sung to the tune Rock of Ages, that he calls Rock of Moore, with the first three couplets going as follows: Rock of Moore I say to thee/ Don’t impose thyself on me. Rock of Moore I will be free/ From your treasonous piety. Rock of Roy Moore cleft for me/ I don’t accept your tyranny. He used this example to underscore how the fanatics are always attempting to reshape America in their Christian image, in ignorance of their Bible, what Jesus told his followers to do in his Sermon on the Mount, and of the Constitutional foundation of our country as well as our nation’s true history, all while declaring war on reason, science, and human progress.
One statement from the Religious Right that has become a veritable mantra is that America was founded as a Christian nation. The supreme law of our land is a document with no reference to a deity, much to the consternation of the ideological ancestors of today’s Religious Right, who at the time petitioned the Constitution’s framers to insert references to God and Jesus—which was thankfully a futile effort. Seeing the problems with official governmental religious support—the bloodshed and animosities springing up between various religious factions, the Founders wisely decided to leave the business of religion to the supporters of each religious belief system and keep governmental sanctioning out. Our Bill of Rights declares that the government is to in no way assist or impede free religious exercise. We are, therefore not a nation in support of any faith and all citizens are free from participation in religious exercises, rituals and pledges of belief as well as free to participate in said. Finally, Kagin quoted the Treaty with Tripoli that states in no uncertain terms that the government of the United States is in NO way founded upon the Christian religion. One cannot look for any clearer refutation of the Religious Right’s mythic construction.
Kagin often, in his book, refers to the religious zealots as bigots. In his talk to us, he said that in attending fundangelical (again employing Kagin’s created term to take in both fundamentalists and evangelicals) churches, one is instructed in how to be intolerant and judgmental. Such lessons begin to be foisted on the children in the Sunday schools, which he sees as a form of mental abuse. This Secretary has often expressed too that parents who would not ever purposely handicap their children by physically breaking their limbs, have no problem mentally handicapping them through religious indoctrination that shuts down critical thinking, curiosity and an unhampered examination of other ways of being.
It should be mentioned at this time that Kagin does not make sweeping generalizations regarding the religious. Indeed he talks of how many devout Christians are on the same page with non-believers in many instances and areas. Both groups realize that a strong separation of State & Church is critical for religious liberty and its free expression, as well as for the perpetuation of a democratic government. The majority of Christians do not see Jesus as the figurehead of ,and justification for, intolerance, homophobia, hateful acts and speech, etc. For them, their faith is personal and fulfilling and beautiful. It is not a rallying cry for the bigots to take down a secular democracy. As alluded to above, Jesus, in his Sermon on the Mount, explicitly declared that those who pray out loud in the midst of others are hypocrites and do so for their own vanity. To pray to the Father, he said, one should go into the closet and shut the door. Those who follow this approach will get their reward that cannot be attained on Earth. Somehow the fundangelicals ignore this (can one have a Christian nation while disregarding the teachings that one is supposedly a proponent of?) and strive to stridently blare their prayers and all manner of auditory and visual displays of their vain, hypocritical declarations of public faith.
Kagin made clear how incompatible biblical concepts are with modern American democratic principles. One will often hear in freethought circles all the horrors contained in between the covers of the so-called Good Book, but Mr. Kagin took a more original approach. He spoke of what is OMITTED; what words one will search in vain to find in the Bible, including: cooperate, morality, traditional, values, rational, rights, independence, compromise, democracy, progress, republic, insight, jury, vote, test, due process, consequence, coincidence, parliament, majority, minority, constitution, discovery, humanity, university, universe, homosexual, fairness, harmony, treaty, logic, sexuality, abort/ion, fetus, poetry, artist or creativity. As a humanistic Constitutional attorney, there is little solace he can derive from a book containing no references to a democratic republic or its laws or in the full expression of humanity, if said book is to be our foundational governing text. After this litany (the above is only a partial listing) he writes grimly in Baubles of Blasphemy: If the Bible is the foundation of morality and our way of life, we are in serious trouble indeed. If the ARCW is lost, we will have no need for those omitted words. End quote.
As I (FA Secretary) was typing the above, a story came over the radio about a 20 year old Tucson, Arizona woman who was raped. She tried to get a prescription medication to prevent pregnancy at one pharmacy after another, being told that the medication was not in stock at each. This was not an abortion drug, but one to halt ovulation from beginning after being raped. It takes three days for the sperm to reach the Fallopian tubes to begin a pregnancy, so she had this small window of time in her search to avoid becoming pregnant with her rapist’s fetus. Finally, she arrived at one pharmacy where the pharmacist told her that the drug was in stock but that he would not let her have it due to his religious and moral sensibilities! Again, this was not to stop an already occurring division of cells from a fertilized egg, let alone abort a fetus, but to try to stop an egg from becoming fertilized by an attacker who overpowered and sexually assaulter her, traumatically. This is just one other example of the Religious Reich misunderstanding their own religion, science and medicine, the laws of our country and basic ethics and logic.
To be a good, caring Christian it is helpful to not know to well what the Bible tells one of Jesus- or to cherry-pick extensively. Tales of Jesus as the Prince of peace can be countered by his words, saying that he did not come to bring peace but a sword and where he tells his followers to bring those who disbelieved in his divinity before him to be slain. His wisdom can be questioned when he curses a tress for not bearing fruit out of season, as but one example. He was easily outraged. As a teacher, he had little patience for those who could not tease apart full meaning from his sometimes convoluted parables. He had disdain for families, even his own mother; encouraged his disciples to leave theirs behind in want, and for the dead to bury themselves rather than being tended to by loving, grieving family members. The morality of the Bible, itself, that countenances slavery, misogyny, and extreme punitive brutality, such as stoning to death one’s disobedient child is questionable. And the inanity of being in violation of God’s law by mixing fibers or crops, dietary infringements, etc. as well as promoting sacrificial rites (because the smell of burnt flesh is pleasant to the Lord) is clearly not for sincere adherence to in an enlightened age.
One further interesting note about the Bible I would include here is that there is not a single agreed upon Bible. Furthermore, for some reason The King James version is the one that the fundangelicals embrace as the very inerrant Word of God, right down to the punctuation marks, as Kagin declared. Those who hold this version as THE TRUE Bible will even cast other versions, along with Harry Potter books and rock and roll CDs, into a fire. However, Kagin wrote that some KJV adherents have recently tumbled to the shocking- for them- knowledge (see, knowledge really DOES bring about the downfall of Man) that the venerable, august King James was, in life, a homosexual.
In one of his many bursts of delightful alliteration, Mr. Kagin talks of the miserable, monolithic, moronic moral code of those ethical paupers who would destroy us and democracy in the ARCW via foisting upon us their GBM, or Genital Based Morality, as he termed it. He further called it an idiotic and evil short circuiting of reason, and (again with alluring alliteration) a delusional deduction of dunces. In the world of the GBMoralist, devastating hurricanes come as God’s punishment for Ellen DeGeneres’ “lifestyle choice.” As long as there is SOME connection to genitals, no matter how tenuous, there is inherent evil in the activity, personage or concept. Some of these that Edwin lists are: abortion, homosexuality, pornography, prostitution, unmarried sex, nude beaches, etc. Legislatures and judges, this attorney notes, should (in the GBM worldview) allow, untroubled, the religiocrazies (another amusing neologism) to kill their kids by refusing medical treatment, yet prosecute nudist camps for permitting people to walk around in the uniform of the day in Eden.
Speaking of Eden, Kagin believes that GBM derives from this tale of lost paradise for the first nudists. Once gaining knowledge from becoming forbidden frugavores, this first couple suddenly realized shame at their unclad state. In this story, guilt, shame and wretchedness all pass down to everyone for all time due to the first man and his helpmeet defying their creator. For those who believe we are born in joy with boundless potential, curiosity and unencumbered by Original Sin- fit only for groveling and begging for salvation so as to avoid the fiery furnace, there is not sufficient guilt and feelings of human worthlessness inherent within them to be accepted by the GBM fundangelicals.
Again these efforts to control other’s behavior through a belief in one’s own Bible-based superior morality comes from a false understanding of their sacred book. The Bible is chock full of sex of all kinds, including fathers being seduced by daughters to become pregnant, one’s daughters being thrown to rapists to spare male angels (all angels in the Bible are male; yet in current iconography they are nearly always depicted as female) and so on and on. Yes, this is all very wonderful stuff for the enlightenment and moral edification of our young people and a way in which to model modern society. Kagin also mentions the method of the Bible Patriarchs for swearing oaths which required one man to place his hands upon the genitals of the man to whom he was swearing his sacred oaths.
Circumcision is of paramount importance to God, and the collection of the foreskins of one’s slain enemies was a noble activity. Modern day delusional folks have cut off their offending genitals due to their interpretation of the sacred texts, but the Bible states that a eunuch, as well as any whose testicles are ruined, may not enter Heaven. It is not made clear what reproductive apparatus is used for in a spiritual realm, unless one turns to the Qur’ran and what awaits the devout male martyr. But of course this is blasphemy from a Christian point of view.
The Song of Songs in the Bible is actually about a man’s lust for his sister, states Kagin, who quotes (in his book) its verses about the man’s desire to climb her branches and, like a young roe, graze about her breasts and genitals. This has been ludicrously misinterpreted as being a story about Christ’s love for the church. Hmmm. Kagin writes: How much in general genital denial these clever clerics be, especially those proudly proclaiming the cults of celibacy and the cloister. End quote. The fixation on GBM (Genital Based Morality, as a reminder) is to the exclusion of matters of real consequence like stewardship of the environment, going to the poor and outcast individuals (a’ la one of Jesus’ more noble pursuits), etc., all while genital-based crimes go on with their priests.
As further evidence of how the modern Puritans have gotten their Bibles wrong, Kagin writes of how, in the Bible, men were encouraged to have many wives and concubines, David, once becoming old, was given two young women to warm his bed at night, a King was seen as unfit for rule once he could no longer have an erection, and other examples. He writes: Genital shame is a modern Christian phenomenon. GBM has replaced ethics. Denial has become duty and holiness has been traded for honor. Repression has pushed reason from the banquet table of life. End quote.
As for the original Puritans, (of whom it has been said, were people who suspected somewhere, somehow there might be someone who was still happy) they were not, as is often bandied about, those seeking religious freedom in the New World. Instead, they were those who caused so much religion-based repression; closing theaters and casting a gloomy pall upon all others, that when their efforts were resisted successfully, they left for the New World to inflict their misery on a new land. They did not come here for freedom from religious persecution but because they could no longer readily, religiously persecute others to their satisfaction in their homeland. Now their heirs are seeking to reclaim this domination of others, based on their errant beliefs regarding their Bibles, their misunderstanding of American history, their disdain for the democratic principles our nation was founded upon and their misguided approach to morality.
Kagin turned next to the AIG (Answers in Genesis) effort to set up a creationist theme park in Big Bone Lick State Park in Northern Kentucky. The park had been devoted to archaeological finds. The entire point of the creationist park was to teach children that evolution was wrong and set up a false dichotomy; an either-or fallacy of Bible-believing children of God, on the one hand, and those God-denying evilutionists (as he terms it in one part of his book), on the other hand. The AIG pamphlet actually states: It must be the Bible, or it must be evolution. A major family park and learning center proclaiming the glories of God’s creation and the authority of His Word is desperately needed to counter the anti-God philosophy so prevalent in today’s world. End quote.
As Kagin said: They have declared war against reason. He notes too how the shackling of the minds of youth in the dungeons of Bronze Age myths is somehow deemed a family value. Like the creationist research centers that do no research, the AIG call their park (complete with representations of dinosaurs and humans living together in a Flintstones-esque way) a center for learning, when its purpose is to close minds and to extinguish interest in rational investigation, science and exploration of the natural world and its very real wonders. In lieu of this, they present supposedly unchanged animals possessing the guts and dentition and claws of a carnivore that were vegetarians before Adam’s Fall.
When asked how light from distant stars, millions and millions of light years away, could arrive on Earth in merely 6,000 years, they have a ready answer: God slowed light down since then to accommodate. Why of course! Certainly Einstein must have factored these considerations into his formulations on space and time.
Kenneth Ham was the the head of this creationist museum plan. In a witty song, Kagin offers us this chorus (excerpted from the full length song): Science deals with problems it sometimes solves/ And sometimes finds new truths such as life evolves/ Creationists have no questions and no need to look/ The answer to every question is in Ken Ham’s book. End quote.
Another delightful swipe at the creationist mindset is contained in his Ode to the Butterfly Mind. Quote: The Parliament of Butterflies/ Was racked by deep division/ Questions of what to teach the young/ Demanded their decision/ It had been known and taught and thought/ Since butterfly life began/ That butterflies in glory rose/ From their creator’s mighty hand/ Now some few who this truth mocked/ Had attacked faith’s very pillars/ All butterflies, these scientists claimed/ Came from caterpillars/ This indecent theory spread/ Into butterfly education/ until this caterpillar cult/ Threatened creation’s revelation/ The faithful sought to restore the truth/ About the origins of butterflies/ And to build an absolute moral base/ To stop the metamorphic lies/ Believe you descended from some worm/ And wormlike you will be!/ Reasoned those who’d seen faith’s light/ And knew there was nothing left to see/ We see no proof, some butterflies said/ That we are all come from cocoons—/ Unbelievers who would teach this tale/ Are all immoral loons/ Some said the metamorphosis lie/ Was laid by the enemy, they believed/ Set like candle flames and windshields/ To destroy all who were deceived/ The matter was at last resolved/ Both theories must be taught- how fine!/ Now all youth can simply decide the truth/ Each in their own simple butterfly mind. End quote.
In litigation against the creationist park opening that Kagin was involved in, science over mythology won that battle in the ARCW, against what he termed the arkonuts. He also compared the phrase creation-science to grape-nuts; both being oxymorons. In a bawdy, non-bowdlerized aside, Kagin mischieviously observed that Ham’s AIG creation museum was to be located between Big Bone Lick and the town of Beaver Lick, and therefore the proposing group might have been referred to themselves not as Answers in Genesis, but Answers in Genitals. Ham declared, after they lost their court case, that this was God’s will (as they would have if they had won—that mysterious will of God and all….) and that He had other plans for their ministry.
In his presentation and book, Kagin examined hermeneutics, which he described as the practice of trying to make contradictory parts of the Bible seem to be reconciled, harmonious and inerrant throughout. Throughout the year we are presented with THE Easter story, or THE birth of Christ, etc. There simply IS no such thing as a coherent unified and single rendition of any of the gospels tales. The general theme one will find is that two gospel reports contradict each other and two others ignore major elements, or that some major piece of drama is inserted in one while the others are ignorant of these events. Kagin proposed an exercise for us: to write a non-contradictory chronology of any of the gospel stories and Acts of the apostles. One will be defeated in this task, as nothing hangs together.
As to the Easter account (based on pagan fertility rites and the goddess, Eostre), Kagin tells of how it is pieced together from the four propagandist tracts (as he calls) them, known as the gospels, written long after the supernatural events were said to have occurred, by unknown authors, who did not know Jesus. From such dubious sources are contained the only known evidence of the Son of Man. Jesus was crucified on a stake (the Greek word translates as stake, Edwin edifies us, rather than cross) and the whole significance of his death is muted, as Kagin tells it, when one thinks that he was a god and sprang back to life again and got to join his Daddy in the sky in full corporeal splendor, rather than as a soul, extricating itself from a rotting corpse. Many people, he notes, have died for others without getting to reanimate a couple days later, but instead must stay dead and therefore never be revered as a god. As an aside, Kagin also mentions elsewhere that there is no such concept as a soul- some mysterious essence apart from the physical body- in the Bible. It has also been noted by others that NO one is supposed to have joined his/her Heavenly Father until Jesus makes his return to Earth, according to the Bible. So all the talk of loved ones looking down upon us from Heaven is contrary to biblical teachings.
There, curiously, is no mention in other (extra-biblical) writings of the time of all the dead people who likewise rose out of the ground after Jesus temporarily expired on the stake, and walked about again. The primary witness to Jesus’ resurrection, Kagin reminds us, was a prostitute who was known to be possessed by seven demons (or in other words rather crazy). He asked if it wouldn’t have been better for God’s boy to have returned in full glory before the Roman Senate, with its literate rational humanists, since they could have recorded a sensible account of these events. As Kagin expressed it in full blown blasphemy mode: Should one accept that the laws of nature have been broken and that a dead body has come alive again on the word of a deranged hooker? Would a just, rational, compassionate god condemn one to eternal torment for doubting such evidence? Clearly the Senate, or even a meeting of the Aqueduct Committee, would have been a better place to break the good news of salvation. End quote.
I (FA Secretary) had thought that the only good thing that might come out of the events of Sept. 11, would be that finally people would consider that there may not actually be a God, or if there was one, It obviously was not one Who held America to Its ethereal bosom. It also preferred, apparently, to be known as Allah. And as a side benefit, I fully and naively expected people to shake off their irrationality, rub their eyes in sudden clarity, and realize that there were no such individuals as psychics. But, of course, neither happenstance came to be. God was woven even further and more indelibly into the US flag and self proclaimed clairvoyants still marketed in seeing tall dark and handsome men to be coming into the lives of the gullible, even though they missed this most stupendous of stories—even though their psychic software was all simultaneously and globally blinkered on that fateful day.
I use this as an introduction to a portion of Kagin’s talk and book that I found to be most in sync with my own sentiments on these issues: The Necessity for a Psychics Patriotic Participation Act. Herein, our presenter laid out his case for how US citizens with psychic abilities shall be required by law to report events that will happen in the future that will negatively impact on the homeland security of the United States. Those, in his proposal, who fail to make such notification, shall be considered guilty of the felony of Treason against the United States, and be punished appropriately.
In this section of his book, he writes of a blackout he experienced on August of ‘03. He was listening to a fundangelical radio station that, predictably, attributed this event to supernatural acts from an angry god. Strange how modern era fundies, living in a time of science and rational exploration of, and explanations for, the natural occurrences of the world around them, have a belief system indistinguishable from the most superstitious and excusably ignorant people from the most backwards tribes of long ago. He said that those hell-bound atheist misfits would probably include (as an alternative to the thoughtful contributions from the fundies) the suggestion that the blackout might have occurred as a result of human behavior, politics, safeguards not put in place and regulations ignored and excessive energy demands, etc. Nahh, must have been God showing It’s wrath over an episode of Sex and the City. That makes more sense.
The Case of the Frozen Embryo. This was the intriguing title he gave to another part of his talk and inclusion in Baubles of Blasphemy, which I quote forthwith: Nonsense struck another blow/ In the case of the frozen embryo/ A Judge has ruled them human life/ And awarded custody to the wife/ In the divorce it was her wish/ To get the goo from the petri dish/ Where the little ones were conceived/ Where marital passion was relieved/ The children went to a frozen tomb/ To await resurrection in some womb/ There will have to be child support/ Ordered by paternity court/ To keep the frozen kids alive/ Until its time they should revive/ But it really must be nice/ To keep your babies’ lives on ice/ Frozen solid until you say/ You are ready to let them play/ But there must be other fears/ For those who wipe their icy tears/ If they should be flushed away/ Or allowed to thaw and rot one day/ Would a murder charge obtain/ Against the one who sent them down the drain/ And what should their birthday be/ Those conceived in petri/ Do the cold days of gestation count/ For the little souls who just want out/ Of a limbo that won’t start/ The beating of a little heart/ Of course there is no heart to beat/ Or even little fetus feet/ There are no bitsy toes on embryos/ And what sex nobody knows/ So you cannot even name/ Those cells that all look the same/ Ah, the problems that occur/ When rational thought and reason err. End quote.
He takes other stabs at the rights bestowed to the unborn, taking these to an amusingly absurd extension by talking of the rights of the un-conceived! In one poem on this, he writes (excerpted sample): We must have laws with iron clad jaws/ To insure news lives are received/ it should be a crime at any time/ To deny life to be unconceived// Should fertile lad and fertile lass/ Henceforth with any passion pass/ Consummation must be achieved/ To insure the rights of the unconceived. End quote. He used these concepts to usher in, during his presentation, thoughts on the Conceived Again (Born-Again) folks and his musings on the hereafter. He quipped that at his age, this means that he wanders around wondering what he is here after!
He quoted from a letter he wrote called Dear Intelligent Designer. In it he questions the many unintelligent designs inherent in life, and especially how humans, as the paragon of animals and the Creator’s special pet that all else was made for, could be so especially blighted with design flaws. Some examples he gave were how the esophagus and trachea are placed so close together as well as the strange juxtaposition of the orifice that we jettison our waste from being so close to the port of birth. And he questioned the creation of an appendix and inserting evidence in our bodies of being the former possessor of tails.
Another of the bits of doggerel from his book include Home Do Not Change, a song that may be sung to the tune of Home on the Range. The first stanza of which goes as follows: Oh, I want my home/ Safe from where bigots roam/ Where fanatics are all kept at bay/ From courthouse and school/ So no pious fool/ Can control what I think or I say. End quote. And he spoke of being honest with children; not to start them off on silly stories they are meant to imbibe as truths simply because it is cute. The stork didn’t bring you, he said at one point, sex did. In this vein, he spoke of his letter with the title: No Virginia, There Is No Santa Claus. The first paragraph of which begins: No Virginia, there is no Santa Claus. It is a myth that has been cruelly used to deceive children for the pleasure of adults who unwittingly destroy children’s sense of basic trust by teaching them that the world is something other than it really is. End quote. He ends this letter with: Keep questioning, Virginia, and don’t feel it is the least bit wrong to demand correct answers. Asking questions is what makes us human. Your friend, Uncle Edwin. End quote.
The founder of Camp Quest (which stands for Question, Understand, Explore, Search, Test) has a special feeling for children and sincere belief in their individuality, need for freedom to explore the world, unhampered by repressive doctrines, and sees them as our hope for the future. One inclusion in his book that sums up much of his thinking regarding children is On Competentiating Children. In it he refutes that the biblical approach of the sins of the parents being visited upon the children is a righteous virtue. He also takes exception to rearing children from banal modern psychobabel or Bronze Age barbaric concepts. He explores, in this writing, helping children to find their own inner strength and competencies.
He writes of how in some countries infected with Mother Teresa morality, surplus kids are shot as vermin. But for God’s sake don’t abort them! He exhorts the encouragement of questioning, and just plain encouragement. And of denying Holy Writ that approves of beating the child for his better development.
One paragraph in this chapter says: One ought to teach children that they are people of worth, able to make sound decisions, that they are not inherently bad and in need of salvation, that morality is not based on authority or absolutes or decree, that morals are manners and manners are subject to change, and that authority changes its mind. We now learn, he notes, from Roman Catholic authorities that there is now no Limbo. Belief grounded in authority must now figure out whence went all those little unbaptized souls that the same authority had for centuries taught were in fact in Limbo. Teach your children to see absurdity and not be destroyed by it. Teach them to laugh. End quote.
He ends this piece beautifully, in a passage that mists up my eyes at the end, by writing: Your children will be competent when they can survive, thrive, create, empathize, and interact justly with others, free of pain, fear and guilt- without gods, without religion, and without you. If they can be thus brought to self reliant adulthood, they will not need the gods or the religion, and they will not miss them. If you have done it right, they won’t need you either. But they will miss you. End quote.
I will end this synthesis of Edwin Kagin’s estimable book and presentation with his poem Pity Little Jack and Jill: Pity little Jack and Jill/ And their lives so very tragic/ For everything- both good and ill/ These two ascribed to magic. If times were good, if times went bad/ If the kids were well or sick/ On their knees they fell to pray/ And God’s great boots to lick. For they only lived to seek/ Reward on Judgment Day/ They thought it was God’s plan you see/ That things were all that way. Obedience was their only goal/ Service their only aim/ Whatever God might will to be / Their faith remained the same/ They lived in groveling platitudes/ In whining faith they died/ Not knowing that in living life/ They hadn’t even tried/ To touch the magic life contains/ When minds are free to see/ That what there is is all there is/ Now is eternity. End quote.
Secretary: Charles LaRue